Ischemic heart diseases, also known as heart attacks, are the leading cause of death around the world. 

What is a heart attack?

Heart attacks are caused by when a blood vessel that supplies the heart gets blocked by a blood clot or cholesterol plaque, that will reduce the blood flow to the heart, distal to this clot or plaque. 

If there is at least a small amount of blood supply left, you will likely feel central chest pain that most patients describe as a very severe, crushing type of chest pain.

However, if the blood supply gets cut off completely, then the heart muscle distal to the block will die, and it can be a small area to a very large area, that will stop the function of your heart, and you will die.

What are the risk factors for a heart attack? 

There can be multiple risk factors for developing a heart attack, the most common risk factors include

  • Male sex
  • Age
  • Hypertension
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity 
  • Smoking
  • Sedentary lifestyle 

Some of these risk factors are not modifiable, such as age and sex. The risk of getting a heart attack increases with your age. 

However, there are some controllable risk factors, such as diabetes, hypertension, and a sedentary lifestyle. 

How do heart attacks develop?

Blood flows continuously in your vessels, and these forces can damage the thin vessels. If you have hypertension, it can further increase this damage on your vessels. 

Diabetes, hyperlipidemia (too much cholesterol levels in your blood), obesity, sedentary lifestyle all increase your cholesterol levels in your blood.

This cholesterol can get attached to damaged areas of your blood vessels, forming a cholesterol plaque. Continuous accumulation of cholesterol leads to more narrowing of vessels, slowly cutting off the blood supply to your heart.  

How to prevent heart attacks?

You have no control over the factors that you can’t control. Such as being a male and your age. But what you can control is your lifestyle.

These health tips can improve your health and control your risk factors for a heart attack.

Live an active life

Regular exercise can help you to reduce the risk of a heart attack

An active lifestyle can control your obesity, burn down the unnecessary fat, control your diabetes, and helps to maintain healthy blood pressure.

One of the reasons why heart attacks have become common is the fact that today we are living a sedentary lifestyle, and most of us are not getting enough exercise.

Make sure you exercise at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week. 

Eat healthy food

Eating healthy food can reduce the risk of a heart attack

Eat food that is rich with antioxidants, low in carbs and fat, food, and vegetables that contain a lot of fibers. They will help to reduce the risk of diabetes, hyperlipidemia (too much cholesterol), and even help you to control obesity, ultimately reducing the risk of developing a heart attack.

Antioxidants can also help to heal your blood and reduce the damage to your vessels from free radicals, reducing the risk of you developing a heart attack. 

Stop smoking and cut down alcohol

Quitting smoking is one of the easiest things you can do to reduce the risk of you developing heart attacks. Smoking can increase the development of cholesterol plaques in your blood vessels and increase the risk of heart attacks.

Smoking has many more adverse effects on health, including damaging your lungs and causing lung cancer as well. So if you are someone who is smoking, make sure you quit smoking today. 

Complications of a heart attack

Apart from death, heart attacks can cause heart failure and can reduce the quality of living. 

You may even have to undergo bypass surgery (to correct the blood flow to the heart), which is a costly, major surgery.


Dr Rukshan Ranatunge is a graduate from the Faculty of Medicine, University of Kelaniya (MBBS). He is currently studying for his masters in health informatics.

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